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Trent Toone, Deseret News
DeNae Handy, a writer, editor and blogger, gives a presentation on blogging and storytelling at the RootsTech Conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thursday.
Stories link you to people. ... Stories can tell you who you are. Stories capture life. —Syd Lieberman

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 6,700 people from 49 U.S. states filed into the Salt Palace Convention Center for the opening day of the RootsTech Conference on March 21. Another 10,000 viewed classes and events via live streaming online, and another 4,000 participated by remote satellite broadcast at Family History centers in 17 locations in seven countries, including the United States, according to FamilySearch.

Considering RootsTech was competing with the NCAA men's basketball tournament, that's not a bad turnout, said Paul Nauta, public affairs director at familysearch.org and a spokesman for the event.

"We are impressed with the turnout. Last year we were at just over 4,000, so that 6,700 is pretty incredible response for a family history conference," Nauta said.

Dennis C. Brimhall, president and CEO of FamilySearch International, was one of three men to speak in the opening conference keynote address. After acknowledging the numbers for this year, Brimhall projected that 120,000 would participate in 2014 as 600 family history centers and LDS meetinghouses would offer remote satellite access to the conference.

"Next year we want to extend the experience or reach of RootsTech to people worldwide. There are only so many people who are able to come to Salt Lake City to benefit from the resources of this rich conference," Nauta said. "Our goal is to expand that to hundreds of family history centers and LDS Church meetinghouses throughout the world next year, and give more than 100,000 people the opportunity to experience the content of RootsTech."

They hope the young people will want to be more involved, Brimhall said in the address.

"I mean no offense to anyone here, but the average age of a family historian is higher than we want it to be," Brimhall said, drawing laughter from the crowd. He then announced about 2,000 young people are registered to join the conference on Saturday.

"We think that's just wonderful. The youth is where it's at," Nauta said. "We want to permeate that younger generation and help provide them with family history-related experiences, technologies and ideas, because they are so creative and they can do so many things with technology. They are undaunted by it. If you give them the tools and get out of their way, they will do what needs to be done."

The main focus of the conference is storytelling, Brimhall said.

"Stories are what family history is all about," he said.

Syd Lieberman, a nationally acclaimed storyteller, author and an award-winning teacher, followed Brimhall in the keynote. He shared short anecdotes from his life to illustrate the power of storytelling.

"Stories link you to people. ... Stories can tell you who you are," Lieberman said. "Stories capture life."

Kim Weitkamp, a storyteller, singer and songwriter, said "Storytelling not only supplies us with history and heritage, but it also supplies us with healing."

DeNae Handy, a writer, editor and blogger, gave a presentation on the journey of self-discovery through blogging. Not only has blogging helped her to become a better writer, but it's also helped her to connect with people and learn more about herself.

"The world spins on conversation," Handy said. "As you write it down, you discover boundaries and things come into focus. Relationships come to mean more to you. ... Start a blog, change your life and you will find it will inspire others as well."

In addition to those attending classes and workshops, more than 100 vendors set up booths in the expo hall advertising businesses related to family history. For example, Dean R. Anderson's business, "Stories in Stone," showcased how a person can pay to have a weatherproof tile with a QR code placed on a loved one's headstone to be able to upload a life story or video.

"We have over 100 vendors," Nauta said. "I'd say half the vendors that I've seen this year, I don't recognize myself and I've been in this industry for 16 years. So there is a proliferation of innovation going on, all associated with creative ways to do different elements of family history."

RootsTech continues through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center or at rootstech.org.

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